I Kings 19:11-14, 18; Luke 13:18-21
Rev. Tom Herbek
March 5, 2017
Elijah, after the passage I read a few weeks ago, tells God that he (Elijah) is the only one left who is against the prophets of Baal. Elijah says he is all alone.
When we jump down to verse 18, we discover that, not only is Elijah not alone, there are actually 7,000 people ready to fight alongside Elijah.
Just like Elijah, when we are caught up in the middle of something, it’s hard to see what is actually going on, at times. Sometimes things are quite different than what we expect. And there are things that happen that we can’t just take at face value.
Lillian Daniels, a Congregational Church minister, describes such an incident with her eccentric grandmother:
Some people have grandmothers who teach them how to make waffles. Mine taught me how to make her a gin and tonic. That was the easy part. What was hard was getting the gin bottle out from inside the raw chicken, where it was hidden in the fridge.
My mother’s mother, my grandmother from Anderson, South Carolina, was a card-carrying eccentric. She was almost the anti-grandma. In fact, we were not allowed to call her Grandma, Nana, or anything like that. Her fourteen grandchildren all called her Ms. Calhoun.
Ms. Calhoun was a brilliant woman, witty, with a devilish sense of humor and strong opinions. Seldom without a Pall Mall cigarette in her hand, she was stylish, a great fan of an outfit you seldom see anymore, the caftan. But her mood could turn at the drop of a hat.
One minute she might be making you fudge, a normal grandparenting activity. But then the next she’d have you making prank phone calls. At her initiative. To her friends. I remember saying, “Ms. Calhoun, I don’t want to call any more of your friends and ask them if they have Prince Edward in the can. I’m tired of getting yelled at by people I hardly know for no good reason.”
Already I was showing the markings of a pastoral leader.
On many an occasion Ms. Calhoun could be found standing out in her yard in a lace and silk bathrobe, firing a BB gun, allegedly at her neighbors’ squirrels, but we all suspected she was firing at the neighbors themselves.
It may not surprise you to hear that this women had a somewhat strained relationships with those who lived next door to her. And it may also not surprise you to hear that she had no idea what they had against her.
She did, however, know what she had against them. They were unjust and unfair accusers.
What the neighbors said was that Ms. Calhoun’s large dog, Amos, ran wild around the neighborhood late at night, knocking over everyone’s garbage. They would awake to find a mess all over the sidewalks, grocery bags shredded and torn up, tuna fish cans thrown around, leftover food rotting on front doormats, all because Amos had been at work.
Now, every dog escapes and does this once in a while. Dog owners, maybe your dog has done it. But you probably felt guilty, tried to prevent it from happening too often, and felt remorse, even shame.
Ms. Calhoun, on the other hand, followed the defense policy of total deniability. Even when people had seen Amos at the scene of the crime, she would state without blinking an eye that her dog had been inside asleep by her side the entire night.
Finally, Amos died, after a long life of adventure and a steady diet of newspapers and plastic wrap. The small Southern neighborhood breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, there would be peace in the valley.
Yet, just two days after Amos’s sad death, the neighbors awoke to find trash and garbage everywhere.
And then about a week later, the same thing happened again.
Clearly, this was not Amos. And the community, in their smug superiority, had been so quick to judge the eccentric woman with the odd habits, and in turn her eccentric dog.
But now, after his death, they had been proven wrong. It was as if, in pointing out the specks in her eye, they had missed the log in their own. The specks were her failings, but the log in their eyes was their snap judgment and criticism of another person.
In those weeks after Amos’s death, when they cleaned up their garbage, they began to wander over to Ms. Calhoun’s driveway and speak a few awkward words of apology. “We were just certain it was Amos,” they said. “I mean, we saw him out there once or twice.”
And years later, every time a critter knocked over the garbage, the neighbors would glance over toward my grandmother, who eyed them reproachfully from her lawn chair as they picked up the dirty diapers, bottles, and cans from their driveways.
That strange mutt Amos lived on in memory for years as a reminder that we should judge not, lest we be judged.
And then, a few years after his death, someone in our family actually spied the creature that was knocking over trash cans.
It was not a runaway dog, not a sneaky raccoon, not a mischievous cat, but a much, rarer species of scavenger heretofore unknown in the small Southern town.
It was a Pall Mall-smoking, lace-bathrobe-wearing grandmother, sneaking out every few months at three in the morning to knock over her neighbors’ trash cans and avenge the memory of Amos. Years after his death.
For she would not be judged. Even though she was wrong. She would make them wrong too.
-When Spiritual But Not Religious Is Not Enough
Sometimes things really do turn out differently from what we’d expect. As we go through life, we try to make sense of what is going on, with us and around us. There are times when the input from others helps us to see things more clearly, just as Elijah needed a little reality check from God.
Jesus had to remind the disciples that small things can really make a difference, like a little yeast in the flour, or a growing mustard seed. And there are times when we too must not be swayed by other people who encourage us to give up, or by our own unwillingness to look at our experiences in a different light.
William James said that: “The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” Psychologists call this “reframing.” And it can make all the difference in how we deal with what is going on.
Columnist Regina Brett describes how her husband dealt with a crisis he faced:
Got a crisis?
Call my husband. That’s his specialty.
Not only does he talk me down from the ledge of whatever small speed bump I’m dangling from, certain I’m on the verge of a catastrophe, but he co-owns a crisis communications firm. They have made it their specialty to help people and companies all over the country respond during a crisis.
When people hear what he does for a living, they often think he helps companies and executives spin their way out of trouble. Not at all. Bruce tells everyone you can’t spin your way out of bad behavior. His mantra is “Tell the truth, tell it all, tell it first.”
There’s never a shortage of companies in crisis, so business is good. A few years ago, a man approached Bruce and his business partner about a job. They made the decision not to hire him. Months later, the man was hired by a competitor who owned a much larger full-service PR firm that wanted to go head-to-head- with them. Then Bruce read in the newspaper that the firm had hired two others to create a crisis communications unit to compete with Bruce.
At first my husband was worried. What would it mean to have competition? How much business would this new venture take from them? Would there be enough business for both companies to succeed? Would they have to struggle neck and neck to compete for clients?
Then he did something that made me admire him even more than I already did. He relaxed.
He made a decision not to give in to fear, not to believe in scarcity or competition or the idea that you have to constantly struggle, to get ahead in life and in business. He decided to keep doing what he did and keep doing it better.
Then he wrote the owner of the business an e-mail congratulating him on starting the new business venture and wished him great success. Bruce even wrote that there was surely enough work for everyone. Then he went over the top and said, “If I’m ever in a position to send you business, I will.”
The man was stunned when he received such a gracious note from the person others might see as his biggest competitor. The man called my husband and left a message on voice mail expressing his deep gratitude. The man’s voice broke as he told Bruce what that e-mail meant to him.
Bruce taught me that we don’t have to struggle to attract more of what we want. There is no competition, no scarcity. What about the global competition? What about the person in the other cubicle competing? Not your concern.
- God Is Always Hiring
Things do not always turn out the way we expect, and the stories we tell ourselves – at least sometimes – may have a lot to do with the outcome. Sometimes, our decision about what it means really does determine what happens later.
In a world where much of what happens to us leaves us not knowing what the long-term impact might be, we must allow for the possibility that there are 7,000 who will support us, even when we don’t see them; that there is yeast in the flour that will cause it to expand; that, even small beginnings- like mustard seeds- may lead to significant growth.
And, yes, there is even the possibility that something our grandmother told us may turn out not to be exactly factual. For who knows, Amos may be out there making his rounds, even in Canandaigua, NY.
Let us remember that, chances are, we are not really alone in what we’re going through.
Let us reframe what is happening to us in ways that enable us to continue to make a difference, continue to plant mustard seeds, and put some yeast in where it might help.